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Kids and Health Care: Fat and Salt = Obesity

The U.S. Surgeon General's Office has noted that, in the 2000s, some 61 percent of Americans are overweight -- up from 46 percent in the 1970s. More than ever, Americans eat cheap and convenient food...from McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut. But along with this convenience come empty calories, refined sugars and artery-clogging fats. This isn't good. And it's especially not good for kids.

Obesity leads to diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. It causes or contributes to 300,000 deaths in America each year...and costs $117 billion in health care. And both of those numbers are going up.

American Heart Association dietary guidelines emphasize reducing total fat (not just cholesterol) and keeping a balanced diet. In 1995, the AHA reduced its recommendation of no more than 30 percent of fat in the daily diet to no more than 20 to 25 percent. Less than 10 percent of the fat in the daily diet should come from saturated-fat (animal) sources. AHA dietitians insist that simple adjustments to the average balanced diet can achieve these goals.

Lowering fat intake can also reduce your risk of getting colon cancer. This is especially important if your child is a boy. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men in the U.S.

And then there's salt. Reducing sodium intake actually can prevent hypertension from developing. About 80 percent of consumed sodium comes from processed foods; 20 percent is added during preparation or at the table. So, you can cut out most of this problem when choosing food at the grocery store. Avoid processed foods. If the ingredient list on a product includes "salt" or any compound term that includes "sodium," don't let your kids eat it out of the container.

Why is this problem getting worse? Part of the problem is that America seems institutionally insecure about how fat it's getting. In the 1990s, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services adjusted their guidelines for what a person's normal weight should be. The feds said that a "normal" 5-foot-6-inch woman under age 34 could weigh 118 to 155 pounds; over 35, she could weigh 130 to 167.

This upward adjustment is a dietary version of the phenomenon economists call bracket creep (when inflation raises the incomes of middle-class people into upper-class tax brackets). In this case, overweight people are reclassified as not overweight. It's a national version of indulgent parents telling their fat child that he's just "big-boned."

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